Forty new “turtle-friendly” streetlights are being installed along roads adjacent to some of Cayman’s turtle nesting beaches as part of a pilot project.

The Department of Environment, the National Roads Authority and Caribbean Utilities Company joined forces to implement the trial scheme. The DoE, in a press release, stated that it was using money from the Cayman Islands Environmental Protection Fund to purchase the lights, which are similar to those used successfully in other jurisdictions “to reduce sea turtle hatchling mortality, while safely illuminating both roadways and beachfront properties.”

The turtle-friendly street lights are part of a trial effort to lessen the rate of sea turtle misorientations on Grand Cayman’s beaches.

“Roadway and residential lighting that shines onto the beach discourages female turtles from nesting and is a critical threat to hatchling sea turtles,” said DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie.

“When they emerge from their nests at night, hatchlings find the ocean by heading toward the brightest light they can see. On an undeveloped beach, this is the moon and stars reflecting off the ocean’s surface.

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“However, artificial lights can be much brighter and lead the baby turtles toward land, where they face mortal danger from exhaustion, dehydration, predators and vehicles.”

The 40 new turtle-friendly streetlights will replace existing streetlights that have caused the greatest number of turtle hatchling misorientations over the past five years, based on data collected by the DoE. One test light, on West Bay Road, has already been installed and it is anticipated that the remainder of the lights will be in place before the start of the 2019 turtle nesting season, which begins in late April and usually lasts until November.

Newly hatched turtles can be easily misoriented by artificial lighting. – Photo: Mark Orr, DoE

The new turtle-friendly streetlights are certified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and use an amber wavelength that is less likely to attract hatchling turtles away from the sea.

CUC’s manager of environment, health and safety, Joni Kirkconnell, said in the release that the installation of these specially designed light fixtures “offers a balance between environmental protection and road safety. We think Cayman’s community will appreciate these lights as much as we do.”

The NRA’s acting managing director, Edward Howard, said, “Replacement of the lights specified in the trial will lead to an immediate increase in sea turtle hatchling survival and will pave the way for turtle-friendly roadway lighting to be rolled out on a broader scale in the future.”

A number of jurisdictions in Florida have installed turtle-friendly lighting along roads and outside beachfront condominiums and homes in efforts to protect endangered sea turtle populations.

Any Cayman Islands properties wishing to install turtle-friendly lights can contact the DoE’s Environmental Management Unit at [email protected]

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